27 March 2019, The Tablet

Ireland to lose dioceses in radical overhaul of Church structure

'We need to take a radical new look at the formation of future priests. A culture of clericalism is hard to eliminate'

Ireland to lose dioceses in radical overhaul of Church structure

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin speaks July 19 during the launch of the World Meeting of Families in Croke Park
CNS photo/Liam McArdle, courtesy WMOF

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has called for a reduction in the number of dioceses in the Irish Church and for a radical overhaul in the training of priests.

In an address on ‘The Church of the Future’ at St Michael’s Church of Ireland parish in Limerick last week, the Archbishop outlined his vision for renewal which would include a “reduction and rationalisation of dioceses” and a “revision of the arcane workings of the Irish Episcopal Conference”.

Recalling the Apostolic Visitation to Irish dioceses announced by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2010 ‘Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland’ in response to the publication of the Murphy and Ryan Reports on Church abuse, Archbishop Martin said: “It is well known that I was unhappy with many aspects of the Visitation and its results.”

He said that despite its good intentions, “the visitation froze the renewal of the Irish Church for some years” and the results were “disappointing.”

A number of dioceses were left vacant for years and some of the ideas of the Visitation were put on hold, including the rationalisation of the number of dioceses.

Archbishop Martin said: “We need to take a radical new look at the formation of future priests. A culture of clericalism is hard to eliminate. It did not come out of nowhere and so we have to address its roots in seminary training. There is no way we can put off decisions regarding the future.”

His comments were made as the Irish bishops prepared to draw up a new programme for the formation of priests which would see seminarians spend more time working alongside priests in parishes.

The far-reaching changes in the model of formation and the structures of Irish seminaries were first revealed by the Tablet in January 2018 in an interview with Professor Michael Mullaney, President of Maynooth. 

In Limerick, Archbishop Martin gave a rather bleak assessment of the current situation of the Church in Ireland describing it as coming out of one of its most difficult moments in its history. “The light at the end of the tunnel is still a long way off,” he acknowledged. 

The Irish Church, he said, would have to live with the fruits of its actions and its inaction and with the grief of its past, “which can and should never be forgotten or overlooked.” 

While there was “no simple way of wiping the slate of the past clean, just to ease our feelings”, he also stressed that the Church in Ireland cannot be imprisoned in its past.  

Irish culture has drifted from being the culture of an enlarged faith community into a heavily secularised culture. For many, faith no longer plays a major role in their lives and they feel that this in no way compromises their ability to be good, honest and caring people, he said.  

He also sounded a note of caution over Catholic education, which despite investment in the structures of school-based religious education and enormous goodwill, was not producing the results that it set out to achieve. 

“We have great teachers in our faith schools. The system is also such that teachers who do not share the faith find themselves at times teaching something of which they are not convinced. There are fundamental fault-lines within the current structure for Catholic schools that are not being addressed and unattended fault-lines inevitably generate destructive energies,” he warned.  

Speaking of the kind of leadership the Catholic Church in Ireland needs in the future, he said the term “synodality” was a current buzzword.

Future leadership must represent lay, clerical and religious, women and men, young and old. “We all agree on this, but nothing seems to happen.” As a result, he stressed, “The alienation of so many women only increases.” 

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